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Pensioners fume as govs back plan to borrow N17tn from pension funds, others

The Nigeria Union of Pensioners has kicked against the plan to borrow from the pension fund, noting that the government has no authority over the money and should, therefore, not tamper with it.

This is as the Nigeria Governors’ Forum has endorsed two proposals to borrow a total of N17tn from two sources for infrastructural development.

The governors took the decision after receiving a briefing from the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who is the Chairman of the National Economic Council Ad Hoc Committee on Leveraging Portion of Accumulated Pension Funds for Investment in the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority.

El-Rufai briefed the forum on a proposed National Infrastructure Investment Fund, saying a total sum of N2tn at nine per cent interest could be accessed through the NSIA.

This was contained in a communiqué of the 22nd teleconference meeting of the NGF, signed by its Chairman and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi.

The communiqué was made available to journalists in Abuja on Friday.

 Early in the year, the NEC had expressed its intention to borrow N2tn from the growing funds under the Contributory Pension Scheme.

Figures obtained from the National Pension Commission, on Friday, showed that the total funds under the scheme stood at N11.34tn as of the end of August, out of which N7.5tn had been invested in Federal Government securities.

The Pension Reform Act, however, stipulates that the funds should not be released by the Pension Fund Custodians to the Pension Fund Administrators to be administered as loans or put in other investments, except it is in line with the investment guidelines of the National Pension Commission.

According to the communiqué, Fayemi noted that the Governor of the Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele, had a similar proposal to access N15tn for national infrastructure funding through InfraCredit at a lower interest rate of five per cent.

The governors, therefore, agreed to endorse the two proposals that canvassed for infrastructure development by both the el-Rufai committee and the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, noting that both were not mutually exclusive and could be adopted simultaneously with one streaming into the other.

Following last week’s killing of over 43 rice farmers by terrorists in Borno State by Boko Haram terrorists, the governors, who earlier sent a delegation to commiserate with their Borno State counterpart, Babagana Zulum, resolved to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to find a lasting solution to the deteriorating security situation.

The NGF also discussed the #EndSARS protests and the judicial commissions of enquiry instituted by governors across the 36 states of the federation to probe the petitions of brutality by law enforcement agents, noting that progress was being made.

They also resolved to “support the necessary reforms that will result in a police force that works for all.

“As an immediate to medium-term measure, members agreed to pay close attention to the conduct of police officers across the country in order to get them and other internal security operatives fully back to work as they have not been functioning to full capacity since the #EndSARS protests with the attendant security exposure to the safety of lives and properties of the ordinary citizens.”

On the contentious issue of stamp duty collections, the governors insisted that it was the function of the states and not the Federal Government to collect it.

The communiqué also read in part, “Following Mr President’s approval of the request of governors for a change in the financing model of the Universal Basic Education from the current counterpart funding requirement to a programme for result performance-driven model, the NGF secretariat was following up with the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to complete work on drafting the Executive Order to guide Mr President’s directive.”

Meanwhile, based on the NGF’s endorsement of the two proposals to borrow a total of N17tn from two sources for infrastructural development, the Nigeria Union of Pensioners has kicked against the plan to borrow from the pension fund, noting that the government has no authority over the money and should, therefore, not tamper with it.

The NUP Head of Information, Mr Bunmi Ogunkolade, frowned on the purported endorsement of plans to borrow from the pension fund by the NGF, noting that many of the governors did not remit their workers’ pensions to the fund.

He stated, “The governors have no authority over the money, it doesn’t belong to them; so, how can they approve a proposal to borrow part of the workers’ pensions, which many of them (governors) are not contributing to?

“Do you know that many of the states are not paying the contributory pension? It shows that they don’t believe in it, so why should they borrow from it? It is not in their power to determine what would happen to that money. No! Their forum is not even recognised by law.”

Ogunkolade said the NUP had previously cautioned the Federal Government against tinkering with the fund, adding that there would be no one to be held responsible if they failed to repay the loan.

He stated, “We earlier issued a statement warning the Federal Government not to tamper with the pension fund when they mooted that idea. It is the workers’ money; people that would become pensioners tomorrow.

“Nobody should tamper with that money; they should look elsewhere for loans to build infrastructure. By the time the people in service would retire in four, five years, the current government would not be there and you won’t know who to hold responsible.” 

“They would be blaming the past government and this would not resolve the issue. The government should not touch that money and the governors have no right to give the approval to borrow from the fund,” the union insisted.

Also, the immediate past Chairman of the Trade Union Congress in Oyo State, Andrew Emelieze, described the plan by the Federal Government to borrow N2tn from pension contributions as criminal.

Emelieze, who is the current National Coordinator, All Workers Convergence, in an interview with one of our correspondents, on Friday, said workers would resist the attempt if the Federal Government refused to stop, saying the pension fund should be left with the pension fund administrators to manage it.

He said, “Borrowing from the pension fund by the government is not in the interest of workers. While should they borrow from that money? The workers that contributed to the fund were not allowed to borrow from it.

“It is not meant for the government to dip their hands into. They are trying to take advantage of the workers because we have a very weak labour movement.

“However, we say no to it and the government must stop it. If they refuse to stop and go ahead with it, then we will resist it. It will force us to confront them with an unprecedented protest. It is criminal and we say it must stop now.

“We are calling on the NLC [Nigeria Labour Congress] and the TUC to take decisive action against the government. They should look elsewhere to borrow money and leave our money for us.”

Similarly, the Rivers State chapter of the NUP also kicked against the proposed plan to borrow from the pension fund.

The state NUP Chairman, Collins Nwankwo, asked, “If that money is tampered with, what if they don’t pay back? What will happen? It is money meant for service, a very crucial service to pensioners.”

However, the Ogun State NLC Chairman, Emmanuel Bankole, said some workers were not averse to the borrowing of the pension funds but only concerned about its use.

He said, “It is not borrowing that is the problem; it is the workers’ money. We are not averse to borrowing. We will only need to ensure that the fund is used for the purpose it was taken. It is important the money is judiciously used.

“Our concern is that the money should be used for whatever it is taken for.”

Bankole, however, said interest must be paid on the fund if borrowed.

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